Directed by Eric Bross
Starring: Adrien Brody, Elise Neal, David Moscow, Simon Baker, Lauryn Hill.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, language and drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan
February 1, 2000

After a string of severely disappointing studio films, it's refreshing to get back to the realm of independence. An ironic result of the independent film boom is the formation of "indie" clichés. One could imagine a film called Restaurant being shot entirely within a restaurant, with neither the characters nor the plot going anywhere. Instead, we get an engaging romantic comedy/drama that spends a great deal of time outside the title locale (even if it never leaves Hoboken, New Jersey).

Adrien Brody plays Chris Calloway, a bartender at a popular restaurant in Hoboken. Like most food service personnel in the New York area, he has aspirations in show business. He has written a play about the stormy relationship he had with his former girlfriend, Leslie (Lauryn Hill), and it's being produced at a local theatre. He gave up drinking for her, but their break-up made him fall off the wagon. He sleeps through auditions, and the lead part (modeled after himself) goes to Kenny (Simon Baker), who had an affair with Leslie while she was still with Chris.

Chris is incensed when he hears the news, because not only will he be seeing Kenny play him on stage, he still has to work with the guy at the restaurant. At this time, he starts dating Jeanine (Elise Neal), a new waitress. She doesn't know much about Leslie, but she gradually finds out that they are repeating the same doomed relationship.

Hill may be the only big star in this film, but Brody and Neal are on their way to the top. Brody, especially, has been on a roll with great parts in Summer of Sam and Liberty Heights. Now, he leads a large ensemble with great skill. Other members of this young cast, including David Moscow and Catherine Kellner, also turn in good performances. If this film breaks out into the mainstream, several new stars should be born.

Director Eric Bross makes Restaurant his second film. Like Kevin Smith, he uses New Jersey as the stage for his drama, filming mostly on location. Of course, he's more grounded than Smith, but he has a long way to go before taking the Jersey Film crown. He has a difficult time juggling all these characters, and resolving all of their little subplots adds an extra reel to the film. Concentrating more on Chris and Jeanine would have been beneficial for keeping the plot moving.

So, if you take all independent films together, this one is at the higher end of the group. It just doesn't take that step into greatness. Don't worry -- this group will be there soon.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Restaurant (1998)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan